Scripture: Mark 9: 33-37 Jan Savory
A long walk
Think back to last week’s gospel. It ended with Jesus, at Caesarea Philippi, teaching the disciples “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” We now see them arriving in Capernaum, over 50 kilometers away. A long walk. They must have talked about many things on that journey. I would imagine that they found the part about Jesus’ resurrection too improbable to register. They certainly didn’t remember that part when Jesus died! I expect they talked about Jesus’ prophecy of his death, and what would happen then. Would their little band dissolve, or would one of them take over the leadership? If so, who? That would easily lead to discussions about rank and importance.
And lots of talk
Although on the 10-hour walk, they must have talked about many things, when Jesus asked what they were discussing, they thought back to their discussions of relative importance and greatness and said nothing. Jesus knew their thoughts and talk without their saying anything. And he used it for another teaching moment on Servant Ministry: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and [be the] servant of all.”
Being servant of all is different for each of us
How we serve is very personal. We all have different gifts. Some can afford to help with money; others have spare time; we all have talents we can use for others. This homily is not telling you what being servant of all means to you. It is to make us think about what serving the least of our brothers and sisters means to each of us. Upside-downness is at the heart of the gospel message, always prompting us to look more deeply and broadly at things. That’s why most paragraphs in the rest of this homily contain lots of questions .
Our ingrained need to be first
Not being first is counter cultural to us today, as it was to the disciples then, too. This need, to make sure that we’re at the front of the line, is ingrained deep within our human nature. It’s enshrined in our DNA; it’s what we needed through the ages to protect ourselves and our offspring from danger and hardship. From the caveman fighting other tribes to modern people voting for the party which will benefit them, our nature is to want to be the winners.
Tomorrow, we will go to the polls to elect a new federal government. To what extent will our own needs, including the need to protect what we have, influence the way we vote? How many of us will vote for a candidate or party who proposes to increase our taxation to feed the hungry, protect the environment from climate change or to provide better living conditions for first nations peoples?
Need vs Greed
We act as if life is a zero-sum game. If he or she gets more there is less for me. Less of what? Necessities or luxuries? Mahatma Gandhi said that the world’s food supply is enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed. Everyone can have enough to eat, if we are all prepared to share and look out for each other. The 1st century peasants, eking out an existence and crippled with ruinous taxation, would find it hard to believe, as do those today who lack the necessities of life – food, clean water, shelter, clothing. And, it’s also hard for us, who have so much, to come to grips with. Really, how much of what we have do we really need?
And, of what we need, is it produced without exploiting others or the environment? Are the farmers paid adequately for their labour and produce? Was this garment manufactured in a sweat shop? Did the manufacturing process use scarce resources, like water, for more trivial products? Do we know the carbon footprint of the things we buy? After all, Ignorance is no excuse when we have Google!
What are we thankful for?
Today, as we celebrate the season of Harvest and give thanks to God for all the good gifts of the ground, how are we sharing with others? Are we like the priest who thanked God he wasn’t like other people “Thank you God for the food you have given us; Thank you, God, that I have enough and more. Yes, thank you that I’m not like those people who have to use the food bank, who are homeless refugees from Syria or Afghanistan, who live in famine areas of Africa … Or are we asking God: How can I show my thanks by sharing with the less fortunate?
Is God asking the impossible of us – to turn away from what seems like the only game in town (political, economic, or religious), and embrace the upside-down kingdom Jesus calls us to? Well, yes, unless we have glimpsed a more attractive alternative. We find it hard to imagine this alternative, much less imitate it, unless we see someone else do it first.
Jesus – our example of how to be the Servant to all
Fortunately, we have an icon, a living parable, Jesus, showing us the more attractive alternative. So, I leave you, not only with questions, but also with the words of the writer of Hebrews: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”